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October Favorite: Lizard Radio October 29, 2015

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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lizardI have read nearly 365 books this year, the majority by women and nearly half by or about people of color. In the last month or so, I’ve read most of the books on the National Book Award long list (except for Gary Paulsen’s book, which didn’t sound that interesting and Walk on Earth a Stranger because in general I am suspicious of Westerns), quite a few picture books and more non-fiction than fiction. I’d say in the last couple years I’ve read far fewer dystopian YA novels and often avoided them because so many were similar, but Lizard Radio by Pat Schmatz was definitely a favorite read this month.

Set in a world where gender rules are strict and people who don’t adhere to them must undergo retraining, the book focuses on Kivali, a fifteen year old ‘bender’ or genderqueer character. Kivali isn’t quite sure who she is–is she male or female? Is she human or lizard, like her guardian teases her about? The book opens as she is sent to CropCamp, an agricultural training course that is supposed to help her transition into a useful citizen. While Kivali makes many friends and even falls in love, there is danger lurking and she must solve the mystery of where the camp director’s loyalties lie.

Some people found the opening of Lizard Radio too slow, but for me it was just the right pace. Very little of the structure of the society was explained directly, forcing me to put together clues to figure out what kind of a world I was reading about. Kivali was an easy character to root for and the side characters were individual and engaging as well. The language (bender, regs, pie) kind of reminded me of Australian YA fiction for some reason, though I don’t really know why. I LOVED how the book included a non-binary protagonist while still remaining very much a mystery/adventure/dystopian novel rather than solely a coming-out story. The camp rules and gender regulations are close enough to our own world that I hope this book will make other readers question our society’s focus on gender and think more about what it means to be non-binary in our world.

Books for Kids Who Love Hamilton October 26, 2015

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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This fall, the musical HAMILTON by Lin-Manuel Miranda has become the ear worm of choice for many people, even those who don’t normally listen to musical theater. Children are definitely included; on Twitter especially, you can find plenty of video clips and photos of kids  singing along to ‘The Schuyler Sisters’ or drawing comic strips of their favorite songs.

aaronSo if you have a kid who loves Hamilton and they want to know more about the history behind the show, what should they read? While older readers may happily dig into Ron Chernow’s biography that inspired Miranda, most younger kids will find an 800 page book a bit intimidating. Alexander Hamilton has not been given nearly as much shelf space as some of the other Founding Fathers, but here are four books for kids that will hopefully add to their delight in the musical.

duel2For readers in the 5-7 age range, Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin (out of print, but available online), and the newly published Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown are good picture book biographies. Both can be read aloud and have dramatic watercolor illustrations, Brown’s in a slightly more cartoon style, with many side by side panels. Revolutionary war battles such as the Battle of Monmouth and experiences like working for George Washington will be familiar to fans of the musical. Brown ends his book with Burr’s quote (sung in the musical) “I should have known the world was wide enough for Hamilton and me.” Both authors include a bibliography and a short author’s note that includes information about dueling in America and it’s history.

duelFor older readers Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz and The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George are excellent biographies that add details to the events of the musical. St. George’s book is shorter, at 89 pages a good length for readers in elementary school, while Fritz’s longer text works for 9-12 year olds. St. George has a few lines that unintentionally echo the musical in amusing ways (she writes “If Hamilton and Burr shared one trait, it was their love for the ladies.”) and she expands on lots of small moments that are mentioned briefly in the play, such as Burr’s difficult relationship with Washington and his courtship of Theodosia. Because her book is a dual biography, it includes an epilogue about Burr’s later life, as well as a full bibliography and index.

alexFritz, who won a Newbery honor for Homesick: My Own Story, has the most detailed re-telling of Hamilton’s story. All of the major plot points of the musical are recounted here, and Hercules Mulligan, John Laurens and Lafayette all make an appearance. Fritz even includes a small reference to Angelica Schuyler, a major figure in the musical who doesn’t show up in any other book about Hamilton for young readers. Hamilton’s work as a statesman is explained thoughtfully, with clear examples of how his views differed from people like Thomas Jefferson. Moments that did not end up in the musical, such as Benedict Arnold’s betrayal and Hamilton’s leadership during the Whiskey Rebellion are also given space here and add to the reader’s understanding of Hamilton’s life. At the end of the book is a set of notes explaining some vocabulary and giving extra information about events and people, as well as a bibliography and index. At the end of the musical, the cast sings “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” and all four of these authors have done an excellent job telling Hamilton’s story.